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The Fog of War

Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

James G. Blight and janet M. Lang

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Robert S. McNamara is one of modern America's most controversial figures. His opinions, policies, and actions have led to a firestorm of debate, ignited most recently by Errol Morris's Academy Award-winning film, The Fog of War.

In the companion book, editors James G. Blight and janet M. Lang use lessons from McNamara's life to examine issues of war and peace in the 20th century. McNamara's career spans some of America's defining events—from the end of World War I, through the course of World War II, and the unfolding of the Cold War in Cuba, Vietnam, and around the world. The Fog of War brings together film transcripts, documents, dialogues, and essays to explore what the horrors and triumphs of the 20th century can teach us about the future.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 224Size: 6 x 9
978-0-7425-4221-1 • Paperback • March 2005 • $28.00 • (£18.95)
978-0-7425-8022-0 • eBook • March 2005 • $26.00 • (£17.95)
James G. Blight and Janet M. Lang served as academic advisors for Errol Morris's film. Pioneers in the field of critical oral history, they teach at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Relations. James Blight is the author of more than a dozen books on the recent history of U.S. foreign policy, most recently Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba's Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis (with Philip Brenner); Cuba on the Brink: Castro, the Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse (with David A. Welch); Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing and Catastrophe in the 21st Century (with Robert S. McNamara); and Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy (with Robert S. McNamara and Robert K. Brigham).
1 Acknowledgements
2 Authors' Note
3 Prologue: Critical Oral History: Robert McNamara's Road to "The Fog of War"
4 Lesson One: "Empathize with your enemy"
5 Lesson Two: "Rationality will not save us"
6 Lesson Three: "Belief and seeing are both often wrong"
7 Lesson Four: "Proportionality should be a guideline in war"
8 Lesson Five: "Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning"
9 Critical Essays: "I'd rather be damned if I don't"
10 Epilogue: Wilson's Ghost
11 Appendix A: Chronology of the Life and Times of Robert S. McNamara
12 Appendix B: Further Reading and Exploration
13 Credits
14 Acronyms
15 Notes
16 Index
17 About the Authors
Essential reading for anyone interested in drawing lessons from the Vietnam war.
Robert K. Brigham, Vassar College; author of Guerrilla Diplomacy


It is difficult to imagine a book more terribly relevant than The Fog of War. James Blight and janet Lang weave together a compelling narrative, important historical documents from the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam war, and gripping exchanges of old adversaries met in dialogue in order to offer readers Robert McNamara's darkly prophetic 'lessons.' In so doing, they brilliantly engage the turbulent, complex, endlessly fascinating life of this remarkable public figure. This book is certainly one of the surest guides through the fog, and we would be wise to pay attention.
Edward T. Linenthal, author of The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory


This book should help teachers and students use Errol Morris's 'The Fog of War' as a launching pad for debating Robert McNamara's lessons about war and peace.
Graham Allison, co-author of Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis and director, Belfer Center for Science and International


Jim Blight and janet Lang's book is a novel achievement. The documentation, and their enormously helpful commentary, complements the film in an incredibly valuable way. This book should be read by anyone who wants to understand the perilous world we live in.
Paul L. Wachtel, distinguished professor of psychology, City University of New York at City College


This fascinating book is rich with lessons for leaders, citizens and students. It is hard to put down. I hope that more of our leaders will pick it up.
Joseph S. Nye Jr., University Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard University


Robert McNamara is the single most important government official of our times. In the winter of his life, McNamara—through the skillful and talented medium of Blight and Lang—reflects on his mistakes, the lessons he has drawn from them, his empathy for his enemies, and his willingness to reexamine his own reasoning. And he seeks now to persuade us, passionate as ever that each of us, mighty government officials or ordinary citizen, will be better if we remain skeptical of our certainties.
Jorge I. Dominguez, director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University


Passionately and effectively, Blight and Lang extend McNamara's anti-war lessons by deepening our insight into his life, and with dramatic and revealing documents and oral history dialogues about crises in which he played a leading role: the Cuban missile crisis; the Vietnam war; and the World War II fire- and atomic-bombing of Japan. The result is a classic handbook, at once terrifying and yet hopeful, about how easily the killing can start and what can be done to prevent it.
William Taubman, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2004 biography, Khrushchev


In his Academy Award-winning film, Errol Morris transformed the popular vision of Robert McNamara from a creator and cold accountant of death and destruction into an agonized, thoughtful, sympathetic public servant. For their part, James Blight and janet Lang have documented the challenges Robert McNamara faced throughout his seven years as America's Secretary of Defense. They have provided fascinating, often chilling selections from correspondence with and between Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro, Johnson, and other players during the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War. This previously classified material, together with thoughtful commentary from scholars and observers, and the helpful views of Blight and Lang, provide a valuable background to the lessons McNamara draws from 'The Fog of War.' Just as Morris's documentary is 'must' seeing for all thoughtful Americans, the Blight/Lang book is 'must' reading.
Chester L. Cooper, former CIA, State Department, and White House specialist on Vietnam, and the author of The Lost Crusade: America in Vietnam


A gripping documentary accompaniment to 'The Fog of War,' the collaboration of McNamara and Morris, and Blight and Lang, is destined to eclipse Graham Allison's Essence of Decision with an altogether darker, and even more equivocal vision—a multimedia complex of scholarship and art.
James K. Galbraith, The Lloyd Bentsen Professor of Economics at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin


A fascinating and instructive book that builds on Morris's brilliant film. Accept the latter-day McNamara's interpretations and explanations or not, The Fog of War—both the film and this volume—deserve, indeed demand, to be grappled with.
Fredrik Logevall, Cornell University; author of Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam


This excellent book is more than a companion volume to the Oscar-winning documentary. The historical case-studies, declassified documents, and vivid photographs shed important new light on Robert McNamara and his efforts to learn from the triumphs and tragedies of his public life.
Scott D. Sagan


Perhaps no political leader of such magnitude ever subjected himself publicly to the introspection and analysis that Robert McNamara has. In The Fog of War, we see a man struggling with momentous decisions and consequences, a remarkable tour of past and future horizons of great significance for how the United States conducts its foreign policy. James Blight and janet Lang stimulated the creation of this unique treasure, and now they have brought us a version with revealing context and depth, wrought with clarity, intelligence, and urgency. In all ways, it is an important and rewarding book.
John Tirman, executive director of the MIT Center for International Studies


Those interested in national policy decision-making or strategy and policy at the Naval War College courses will find this book and film of interest.
LCDR Youssef Aboul-Enein, MSC, United States Navy; Dcmilitary.Com


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